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Blue Velvet in the O2 11/21/2010 - 7:42 PM

Andy

by Hannah Wilks, TennisWorld Contributing Writer

Two weeks ago, I saw the Paris Meridian, also known as the Rose Line. For many years, it was considered the prime meridian; the line of 0 degrees longtitude which divides the eastern and western hemispheres. But in 1884, a conference of scientists decreed that the Greenwich meridian - which now runs right past the western edge of the 02 Arena - was the Prime Meridian; that London was the alpha and omega of the world. One unintended consequence of this instance of punching above one’s weight on a global scale is that this week’s tennis takes place at 0 degrees longtitude. As the signs insist, it’s the final showdown. Zero hour.

The ATP likes to play up the Britishness of this event; London, as anyone watching the World Tour Finals is repeatedly reminded, is calling. The players pose with the Prime Minister or a red London bus, as if there’s nothing more to being British than a suit and a stiff upper lip. Personally, next year I want to see the eight finalists come out of a TARDIS dressed as various cultural heroes from the UK. Harry Potter. Robin Hood. Shakespeare, complete with tights and Elizabethan ruff. Mr. Darcy and King Arthur. Labyrinth-era David Bowie. Braveheart. Speaking of whom, the stars just might be aligning for Andy Murray, who recorded the first singles victory of the championships today in a 6-2 6-4 defeat of Robin Soderling.

Murray, well-rested, set loose on a slow, low-bouncing indoor court, has as good a chance as anyone of ending his turbulent year on a high note. Better, if you believe in the power of home-court advantage. But I’m wondering if, The Clash notwithstanding, there is anything quintessentially British about this event that makes playing here a better experience for the Scot than what he might find at any other anonymous indoor venue.

A tide of people made its way to the arena, braving the icy rain hanging in the air and the biting wind blowing off the Thames. Tennis is calling, and London is answering. It’s not like a Wimbledon crowd, either; scattered throughout are the sort of middle-ageds you’d expect to see in SW19, who pack for a day’s spectating as if it’s a hiking expedition, but there are plenty of groups of young people, too. It’s not a lawn tennis crowd; it’s a London crowd, and that means that there are all sorts of people here. This is the newly gentrified Docklands (it’s not too far from Deptford, where the street my mother grew up on was condemned for slums and demolished to make way for a high-rise), not leafy Wimbledon. This is the heart of a city that continuously reinvents itself.

The 02 arena itself started out as the Millennium Dome, built by the New Labour government at a cost of 789 million pounds to celebrate what it meant to be British at the year 2000. Five years later, a colossal white elephant, it was sold as an empty shell to Orange to be rebranded; a bloated failure to define our national identity, repackaged as a slick, corporate entertainment facility.

Last time I was here, it was for Kings of Leon; last week, it was the Gorillaz; next week, something else. Everywhere you look this week, though, you see ATP World Tour Finals branding and signage. The big screens carry vignettes on the sponsors’ support for sporting opportunity for children, or remind the crowd that Sky carries over 100 hours of live tennis a year. Volunteers shoot ATP -branded T-shirts into the crowd during breaks; the fans are asked to call the toss at the beginning of the match. Tennis, tennis, everywhere, and plenty of Corona to drink. But this venue was made to be a blank canvas, and the blanket of tennis promotion that covers it this week will be whipped off next.

Unlike the Parisian hip-hop and house of Bercy, the London DJ favours classic rock and pop during changeovers, with a fondness for Britpop, Bowie and Lady Gaga. Raised on the silence of Wimbledon, there’s an expectant hush during points, and a minimum of polite applause between. Invited to show their appreciation for the slick play of the Bryans, the crowd dutifully complies, but it’s about to get a lot louder in the arena. Because Andy Murray is about to play.

There’s no shortage of hyperbole preceding the British no. 1 on to the court. On the pre-match VT, Justin Gimelstob informs us that Andy Murray is the master of when to use the drop shot (a bold statement that Murray will later seem intent on disproving). The announcer describes him, apparently without irony, as “an amazingly gifted and talented athlete who reads the game like a wily veteran”. Robin Soderling is introduced as … Robin Soderling.

They still haven’t got the hang of the son et lumiere in the stadium, missing audio-visual cues all over the place. Soderling, too, looks out of step with events; the choruses of “c’mon Andy” from the crowd are restrained, partly because Murray rapidly establishes dominance. The pace and power of Soderling’s forehand is more impressive, and less ungainly than it looks on TV. For a shot more utilitarian than beautiful, the length of the backswing makes it seem almost impractical.

This one is the fifth Murray match I’ve been lucky enough to watch in 2010, and I’m nowhere near getting sick of it. He’s amazing when he wants to be - smooth, aggressive, clever. I love watching his feet, and the exceptional balance that enables him hit forward while going backwards, which creates good depth on even defensive shots.

I like Soderling, too, but the experience is a bit like watching a Hollywood action hero taking on a gang of foreign terrorists. You know Soderling is going to attack, pummel the ball, press forward until he misses. The formulaic elements don’t vary, but you still want to see it unfold. Watching Murray, on the other hand, is more like viewing a David Lynch movie. It's  incomprehensible at times, full of twists and turns, sequences of unexpected and hypnotic beauty, and permanently on the verge of straying into the surreal.

I’m also aware of how often Murray aces his way out of trouble. One has to wonder, can he - will he - ever serve big for seven matches in a row? Without that ace, you’ve pretty much got a hole where a grand slam should be - and a crowd that still finds more entertainment in ironically cheering for the retired Tim Henman, the paradigm of the plucky over-achiever, than it does in taking the often rocky path of being a full-on Murray fan. Errors are greeted with a peculiarly British mumble of disappointment, a dispirited acknowledgement of the inevitable, and even Murray’s exceptional first set doesn’t satisfy the punters - a young woman near me shyly says “he’s playing well, isn’t he?”, only for her boyfriend to snap “he’s world no. 4 [sic], he should be playing well.” Tough crowd.

But Murray’s a tough player. He isn’t Monfils, looking outside himself, drawing energy from the cheers; I don’t know if he hears the crowd, if it means anything to him. He’s introverted, inwardly focused. It’s not a coincidence that he yells his own name when he commits an error he finds particularly egregious. He does like to complain, looking down at his legs, the court, his racquet when he makes an error, searching for something to blame. That’s British. I think about all of his disappointments this year - Melbourne, the lost months when he seemed sick of it all, his crushing defeat at Wimbledon and the disaster that was the US Open - and what it must take to pick up and carry on.

That’s rather British, too.

[[I'm pleased to say that once again this week,  during the Barclay's ATP World Tour Finals, we have Gauloises covering the action for TennisWorld. Only now, shortly after posting, I've changed her avatar to her proper name. Hannah will be filing regulary, at least during the early going, and don't forget to look for Racquet Reaction posts as well - Pete]]


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Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/22/2010 at 04:31 PM

Hell Pat Cash my favourite "un Australian"

Posted by Kristy 11/22/2010 at 04:31 PM

yello fuzzy, THAT is the secret for Roddick. He just needs to stop touching his junk.

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 04:32 PM

Old man Fed: last time you started talking TB chances, Rafa promptly got broken. Pls hold, Rafa!

Posted by sisu 11/22/2010 at 04:32 PM

NP, my commentators, JimmyA and LiefS, on TTC kept saying it. Thx.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/22/2010 at 04:32 PM

yes, I definitely don't see Rafa winning this match. 90% likely this is done in 2 sets. 8% likely Roddick winning in 3 sets.

Posted by Heather 11/22/2010 at 04:32 PM

Leaving work....ahhh, let's hope I get home to an Andy win...sorry Rafa fans, any other time I would want Rafa to win. Don't hate me! :)

Posted by vs 11/22/2010 at 04:33 PM

Vamos Andy! :-)

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/22/2010 at 04:33 PM

Kristy
so true , seems to be the opposite for Rafa, the more he itches the better he plays...he has hardly touched his bum today

Posted by Kristy 11/22/2010 at 04:33 PM

HEather if I were you I'd stay there! You can scoreboard!

Posted by Kristy 11/22/2010 at 04:34 PM

Weird, yello fuzzy! Why the moratorium on bum touching? Must be the English influence.

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 04:35 PM

It's all good Heather, of course you're going for your guy!

Posted by wilson75 11/22/2010 at 04:35 PM

sisu: Jimmy Arias and Leif Sharias should know that carpet is no longer used on the ATP tour.

Posted by Andrew 11/22/2010 at 04:37 PM

Two holds: Nadal catches Roddick cheating to the center of the court at 40-15, big second serve wide. 4-3 Nadal, on serve. Huge amounts of loop on the ball. Loop and run, boys, loop and run.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/22/2010 at 04:37 PM

Rafa's serve form is all messed up now for the flat serves. That's why he can't serve like US open anymore. When he tries to go for it, it's too rigid and robotic. It lost all the flow he had and definitely lacking Fed's or Muzz's ease.

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/22/2010 at 04:37 PM

Kristy
first the pervasive pink, now the hands off the bum policy what next...cats and dogs living together!?

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/22/2010 at 04:38 PM

Rafa still cant get a good read on Andys serve.He might of broken him once though over all through the match he hasnt been

Posted by Tim (Moonpies lead to violence!) 11/22/2010 at 04:39 PM

this is the slowest court ever--these bullets just are handled so easily, loft a moonpie and start the point again ... Go Roddick, just serve bullets and win please ... i mean these guys can run from one sideline first row to the other in the same rally, and STILL keep the ball going ...

this game just didnt exist in the Becker Sampras era indoors, its amazing how the game has changed...

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 04:39 PM

Uber easy hold for Andy. Please hold Rafa

Posted by NP 11/22/2010 at 04:39 PM

Well, sisu, for them indoor = carpet.

Posted by imjimmy 11/22/2010 at 04:40 PM

""The RoS has always been a relative weakness of his, particularly against big servers. Don't think this was so unexpected. ""

That's true NP. But he still does a better job of returning the other big servers: Berdych, Soderling..hell, even Karlovic. OTOH with Roddick, he just can't get a read. It's strange..

Anyway, a little disappointed with the quality of tennis. A not so well playing Roddick still manages to handle Nadal comfortably..

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/22/2010 at 04:42 PM

Okay, Rafa, when you play exo in Dec with Fed, promise him 2 losses in non-major events in exchange of how to return fast flat serves! Geez. Maybe the old man, giddy of the prospect of improving his dismal head to head record, will accept it. I think at this stage, just guessing one side and commiting to it would yield a better result than this current reaction-based return tatic. He can't return poop, is what I am saying.

Posted by sisu 11/22/2010 at 04:42 PM

wilson75, you think they would right?

Rafa looking better.

Posted by Andrew 11/22/2010 at 04:43 PM

Two more holds, 5-4 Nadal on serve. Roddick is well conditioned, but he's had fitness issues this year. Still, I don't see him as automatically second best if it goes 3.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/22/2010 at 04:44 PM

Good use of the slice on your serve Rafa out wide

Rafa 1st serve percentage better in this 2nd set and 3 aces to boot lol!

Rafa if you can manage it a good time to try for a break

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 04:44 PM

I haven't heard it from Robbie and Jason, but twitter's saying Rafa turned his ankle in practice this week

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 04:45 PM

Yet another easy hold for Andy:(( Please hold again, Rafa!

Posted by manuelsantanafan 11/22/2010 at 04:45 PM

Old man Fed informs us: "If you can't even win a set against Roddick, you don't deserve n. 1."

So, if Rafa loses in straights today he loses his 3800 point lead in the ATP rankings?

Wow. This match weighs more heavily in the rankings than the finals of a major.

Posted by NP 11/22/2010 at 04:46 PM

imjimmy, not sure I'd agree re Karlovic, at least not on his 1st serves. Surely you still remember the '08 Queen's match between the two, and their more recent meeting at the AO this yr. Plus Roddick's 2nd serve is better; Isner is the only guy who may be his equal or superior in that area.

Also I actually think this match has been quite decent. Better than the Nole-Berd snoozer earlier.

Posted by wilson75 11/22/2010 at 04:46 PM

sisu: Yeah but it's hard for them to know that when they basically spend most of their commentating from a studio in LA.

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 04:47 PM

Gah- C'mon Rafa, pls don't let Andy get a bp here!!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/22/2010 at 04:47 PM

At this rate, Roddick can miss all of his 1st serves from here and on and still hold all of his serve and win this match rather comfortably. None of Roddick's serves are coming back in play while most of Rafa's serves are still coming back in play. And as I said, Roddick is not a good returner and really easy to ace. Fed beats him in ace count the last time they played.

And now it's 15-30 against Rafa. oy, maybe my prediction will come true and Rafa will lose this 5-7.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/22/2010 at 04:49 PM

NP Any game was better than Nole V Tomas please? lol!

Posted by sisu 11/22/2010 at 04:50 PM

GB, my commentators (TTC) mentioned it before the match but said he was fine.

NP, that's "old days" thinking, i.e., JimmyA's thinking I guess.

Posted by NP 11/22/2010 at 04:50 PM

AM, this match is better than Dancing with the Stars.

Posted by Andrew 11/22/2010 at 04:50 PM

Roddick holds at love, Nadal from 15-30. Punishing long rally, with Roddick getting yanked from side to side at the baseline. 6-5 Nadal, on serve.

Posted by Colette 11/22/2010 at 04:51 PM

AM, if it goes to TB, you must open the bar!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/22/2010 at 04:51 PM

"I haven't heard it from Robbie and Jason, but twitter's saying Rafa turned his ankle in practice this week"

oh sure. that's why Rafa's serve is back to pre=Us open form. But his movement and defense has no change. hm hm of course.

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/22/2010 at 04:52 PM

here we go...Andy don't self-destruct

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/22/2010 at 04:52 PM

Well Rafa another good time to break unless you want to go to a t/breaker

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/22/2010 at 04:54 PM

Roddick's moon ball saved him on that point. 30-30 Still I'd say TB.

Posted by CherryNYC 11/22/2010 at 04:54 PM

Andy, you cannot get stuck in a rally.... you look like an idiot....30-30

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 04:54 PM

thanks sisu.

Rafa mum frazzling and Rafa dad too. Toni doesn't look particularly colm either. My own nerves can't take a TB either.

Posted by sisu 11/22/2010 at 04:54 PM

wilson75, that's true but I thought fact checking would be a basic part of the job. Don't want to beat up on them just don't appreciate incorrect information being given out especially in what I consider an important tournament.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/22/2010 at 04:55 PM

Just shoot me now

Rafa how on earth did you miss that shot when you had control of the point????

Uncle Toni just bowed his head in disgust

Posted by Master Ace 11/22/2010 at 04:55 PM

Could we get our first 3 set match of the WTF?

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 04:55 PM

OMG, please somehow win this TB, Rafa!!! If you could just win a set...

Posted by CherryNYC 11/22/2010 at 04:56 PM

TB time.... after this I'm going home to drink...

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/22/2010 at 04:56 PM

I wish players would do away with the 'desperation challenge'

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/22/2010 at 04:56 PM

TB time! Now Roddick will all go kamikaze and probably win this. Rafa has never really returned Roddick's serves while Roddick returned most of Rafa's.

Posted by sisu 11/22/2010 at 04:56 PM

I really would like to see lets removed from the game.

Posted by wilson75 11/22/2010 at 04:56 PM

sisu: At least Gimelstob should be helping them out since he is in London.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/22/2010 at 04:56 PM

Great t/break time

Rafa you should have broken Andy then pfft.

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 04:57 PM

Need more vodka, AM, more vodka

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/22/2010 at 04:58 PM

Rafa almost lost that point and it was his serve! Geez. I bet Roddick can just cruise his serve points with unreturned serves or easy short returns.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/22/2010 at 04:58 PM

I forgot my drugs Pfft

Posted by CherryNYC 11/22/2010 at 04:59 PM

Andy, Andy -- you can't miss that...... Rafa with the minibreak

Posted by NP 11/22/2010 at 04:59 PM

sisu, JimmyA is just pining for the days when he could clobber his opponents with his FH.

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 04:59 PM

Not getting my hopes up, but it would be great if you could hold onto this minibreak Rafa! just sayin'

Posted by sisu 11/22/2010 at 04:59 PM

I'm with you CherryNYC. Andy please do not rally with Rafa.

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 05:00 PM

:((((

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/22/2010 at 05:00 PM

excellent DTL BH by Andy, he gets the break back

Posted by CherryNYC 11/22/2010 at 05:00 PM

wow, a BH winner from Andy 2-2

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 05:00 PM

F!!!! F!!!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/22/2010 at 05:00 PM

And Rafa loses both his serve points. typical.

Posted by Holds 2 Love 11/22/2010 at 05:00 PM

The serve is one thing, but I just can't work out why Nadal is struggling from the baseline to the degree he is. very uncharacteristic.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/22/2010 at 05:00 PM

Wonderful down the line shot Andy

Passing GB a bottle of Vodka

Pfft Rafa????

Posted by Kristy 11/22/2010 at 05:02 PM

Tennis Channel's scoreboarding is pathetic.

Please, Andy, keep it together.

Posted by Andrew 11/22/2010 at 05:02 PM

TB it is. And 3-3 at the changeover, 2 MBs each. A bit nervy.

Posted by sisu 11/22/2010 at 05:02 PM

wilson75, to my way of thinking he is useless.

Posted by Tim (Moonpies lead to violence!) 11/22/2010 at 05:02 PM

moonpie alert! theyre falling from the sky like snow! lol

cmon Roddick darn you...

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 05:02 PM

*massive gulps of vodka* Vamos!!! Please don't kill me now and lose yet another minibreak Rafa!

Posted by wilson75 11/22/2010 at 05:03 PM

sisu: You might be right there.

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 05:04 PM

Just win one of these next three points, Rafa!! Preferably one of the first two.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/22/2010 at 05:04 PM

Andy dont play Rafa on his b/hand there

Rafa with a good first serve

3 set pionts

*FAINTS*

Posted by Mr Rick 11/22/2010 at 05:04 PM

Holds e Love - Rafa seems very nervous.

But if anyone can make a comeback in a match, its Rafa.

But I think its more nerves than rust right now. Probably Andy was exactly the wrong person to start out with.

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 05:04 PM

Kylie's frazzling now.

Pls Rafa, pls!!

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/22/2010 at 05:05 PM

sloppy TB by Roddick, he needs to get this ROS in play

Posted by Tim (Moonpies lead to violence!) 11/22/2010 at 05:05 PM

andy you messed this up, moonball rafa just scratches by ...

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/22/2010 at 05:05 PM

oh ho. What's this? Roddick choked?

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/22/2010 at 05:05 PM

Merry Christmas Rafa
love
Andy

Posted by wilson75 11/22/2010 at 05:05 PM

I think Rafa runs away with it now.

Posted by GB 11/22/2010 at 05:06 PM

Vamos!!!! Rafa wins his first set at the 02 and first since 07 at the WTFs

Posted by Kristy 11/22/2010 at 05:06 PM

What's the score in the TB?

Posted by Andrew 11/22/2010 at 05:06 PM

Only 1 MB in those six points, but it went to Nadal. A BH return clips the sideline at 3-3, and that's enough. Third set it is.

Posted by Colette 11/22/2010 at 05:06 PM

Mooooomeeeentuuum.........

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/22/2010 at 05:06 PM

Hell he did it?

Running to the shop for more alchol and drugs

Posted by Kristy 11/22/2010 at 05:07 PM

Oh yuck. Andy lost the set.

Posted by izidane - It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/22/2010 at 05:07 PM

Hi all. *rushing in*
C'mon Andy! It's okay, regroup.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 11/22/2010 at 05:07 PM

Aha, feeling better already ...

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/22/2010 at 05:08 PM

well still, Roddick is on the driving seat since he's the one taking all the risks on opponents serve. Rafa can't do that since he can't even put the balls back in play.

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/22/2010 at 05:08 PM

AM
I'll need a flask of Jack Daniel's please

Posted by AB 11/22/2010 at 05:09 PM

No. A choke in a TB is a DF.

Why the negativity? RAndy is playing about as well as he has been all year. He's putting some sting in the FH, his BH is serviceable, and his serving % is good.

Rafa bears down under pressure. He hung on a got a few ROSs in.

Credit Rafa for settling down and keeping pressure on, but it's not like RAndy gave away the set.

Double sheesh.

Posted by sisu 11/22/2010 at 05:09 PM

Well at least Heather may get to see some of the match.

Toni impassive, Rafa jubilant.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/22/2010 at 05:10 PM

I should be used to this by now with Rafa

Why cant he just win normally

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/22/2010 at 05:12 PM

that short DTL BH approach has pass me written all over it

Posted by AB 11/22/2010 at 05:12 PM

As I thought it would be, it's the most competitive match of the tournament.

Now that Rafa isn't spraying balls all over, I'm enjoying the match up.

RAndy has a good game plan and he's executing well and making more stab volleys than usual.

Rafa's 1st serve % is better and he's creating good opportunities for put-aways.

Posted by Texastennis 11/22/2010 at 05:12 PM

Well work has rudely been interrupting me following this match until five minutes ago - but was Roddick up a set and a break? Aargh ... I thought when I started looking at the start of the tb that he might be about to pull off an extremely unlikely (given the slow court) victory. Now his usual pattern of close losses and Rafa's ability to close out tight wins seems likely to prevail.

What's happened to the new improved Rafa USO serve this fall though?

Posted by sisu 11/22/2010 at 05:12 PM

AB - "Rafa bears down under pressure."

I think he's the best in the business right now!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/22/2010 at 05:13 PM

well, if this 3rd set goes deep, it's good for the loser of this match since at least he will be able to do some damage control on the win/loss ratio.

Posted by Kristy 11/22/2010 at 05:13 PM

AB, thanks for your words of hope, but as a Roddick fan I feel fatalistic. He's not great at fighting a reverse of fortune. He gets pretty frazzled.

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